Book Review: Saxophone Colossus

Cover of Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins - Aidan Levy - 9780306902802

This deep dive biographical book about the legendary jazz artist Sonny Rollins is itself, colossal. Saxophone Colossus, by Aidan Levy, is more than 700 pages long, and Levy uses those pages to explore many elements of Rollins’ life on the stage and in the world.

What comes through clear is how inventive Rollins was as an artist, how he found a way through clean living and philosophical ideals, and how he was never satisfied with his work, always pushing himself, even into his late 70s and early 80s, to find the sound and the “chords” he was seeking.

There’s a famous story of his Bridge Year, when Sonny removed himself from the jazz scene in New York, and spent nearly two years in isolation from other musicians, practicing constantly on a bridge, using the ambient reverb and the quiet space to explore his saxophone and his sound. The sabbatical changed him, and when he re-emerged, he was soloing on yet another level.

Rollins could be a tough leader of bands, firing as many people as he hired, but he could be generous, too, with young musicians, using the stage to show how ideas could float in and out of one’s music, with style and propulsion. Rollins was known to play for hours at gigs, even playing during breaks in sets in the back area of bars and performing spaces.

This book does get a bit deep into the nuts and bolts of Sonny’s days — maybe a bit too much for the casual jazz fan, at times — but the moments where Rollins creativity and imagination shine in Levy’s writing are magical and transformative, and he is rightly hailed as one of the jazz greats, a player who bridged the days into the modern era, and helped reshape American music, again and again.

Rollins, 93, is retired now, removing himself from the music scene in his 80s when health and age made touring too much to handle. I saw him play in Boston about 20 years ago, and his performance still resonates with me, particularly the way he moved across the stage and was playful with his solos, enticing the listener to follow his journey on each and every song.

Peace (Sounds Like Jazz),

Digital Poems from NWP’s Write Across America

This summer, the National Writing Project hosted a series of virtual visits to Writing Project sites for writing events in its annual Write Across America project. I didn’t attend any of the virtual writing events, alas, but I did use the resources generated by each site to write and compose digital poems. I’ve shared them periodically, but I wanted to gather them in one post.







I enjoyed the challenge of using places for inspiration, but I appreciated the resources gathered by NWP friends in each of those sites, as the breadth of images, stories, videos and other elements provided many inroads for writing.

Peace (Landscapes),


Book Review: The Language Of Trees

Subtitled A Rewilding Of Literature and Landscape, Katie Holten’s beautiful book The Language of Trees gathers together a rich tapestry of essays, poems, stories, myths, fables and more about trees.

There are pieces about tree clocks, about the oldest trees in the world, an exploration of fossil poems, philosophical musings on how trees root us to the world, and a whole lot more. Small poems are also all over the place in this book. Ross Gay opens the book with a wonderful preface, too.

Not every piece she chose here connected with me but the ones that did were magical. And what makes the book even more fascinating is that Holten has created her own tree typeface, which she uses throughout the collection, transforming poems and passages into pages of tree font.

With Write Out 2023 approaching, this book was a deep dive into the importance of trees and forests and the world.

Peace (and Roots),

Write Out 2023 Is Coming!

Next month, the sixth year of the Write Out project kicks off, with two weeks of place-based writing starting on October 8th. Write Out is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.

Learn more about specific activities and events from the most recent newsletter and then head to the Write Out site for even more information, and sign up for the free newsletters.

Peace (and Place),


WMWP Workshop: Writing In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence

Writing in the Age of AI 2023 - 1

I am helping to co-facilitate a workshop session next month on the teaching of writing in the time of Generative AI, and we hope to gather together K-12 educators and university professors to discuss the changing landscape, and collaborate on paths forward.

If you teach in Western Massachusetts, we invite you to attend. We scheduled it the day before the National Day On Writing, purposefully, so that we would remind ourselves of the human aspects of writing, even with the influx of algorithms and chat generators.

Peace (with technology),

Write Across America Poem: Canyon Dreams

I finally got to see the prompts from the last summer stop for the National Writing Project’s Write Across America, and the Central Arizona Writing Project focused on the Grand Canyon as its source for writing. Some other day, I am going to gather the digital poems I did this summer into one post.

Peace (and poems),

DS106 Pledge of Creativity

Daily Create Creative Pledge - 1

The Daily Create prompt the other day – by my friend Karen – suggested a revamping of the Pledge of Allegiance recited in schools but I went in another direction.

Peace (from the nothing),

Gathering Morning Poems


With the start of school, I’ve been posting less here, but still writing small poems each morning. Here is a collection from the last week or so.

Pattern Sequencing

Kaleidoscope of Colors

Bellwether Forever

Invitation To Dance

Peace (and Poems),